Last spring we ran an accidental series of stories about the Virginia Parole Board, which was busy releasing some of the commonwealth’s most depraved criminals.
At first we learned of one murderer being released from prison. A few days later we heard about another and another until we had six. Before we knew it, we had a series.
There were also allegations that the board wasn’t following procedures. Prosecutors told us they were not being given adequate notification before criminals were released. Victims’ families said they weren’t contacted at all.
Unacceptable. All of it.
Most Virginians became aware of the Richmond freeing frenzy when they heard in May about the impending release of Vincent Martin, a Richmond cop killer. The outcry from law enforcement caused a delay but Martin was released in June.
That inexplicable decision helped launch an investigation into the parole board by Virginia’s inspector general. In July he issued a scathing report that found the board had, in many cases, failed to follow its own rules that require adequate notice to prosecutors and victims’ families before prisoners are freed.
Joining Martin on this parade to freedom were at least five other lesser-known murderers:
There was Donald Lee Brooks who was serving 28 years for a second-degree murder committed in 2010. Debra Scribner, who was serving 28 years for a murder committed in 2012 and who was sprung after just eight years. Irvian Cotton, who in 1979 shot his wife at point-blank range in front of her children, ages 4 and 8. Dwayne Markee Reid, who was given two life sentences in 1995, and is back on the streets thanks to the board. So is Patrick Schooley Jr., who, in 1979, abducted, raped and stabbed to death a 78-year-old woman. Schooley was serving three life sentences for capital murder, before the board decided he should get a second chance.
Other killers may have been paroled in recent months, but the board’s website cleverly omits details about the crimes committed by the inmates that are being freed or the length of their sentences.
Here, take a peek at one nearly information-free page from the parole board’s website:
Sen. Mark Obenshain tried to remedy this deliberate dearth of details when he introduced SB5050 during this summer’s special session. This measure was aimed at bringing desperately needed transparency to the Parole Board.
If Obenshain’s bill had become law, the board’s website would have morphed from a murky, meaningless list of names into a source of actual information about who is being unleashed on society.
Beyond that, the website is chronically out of date. The most recent parole decisions available are from July 31. Obenshain’s bill would require the board to post its decisions promptly, on the last day of every month.
Those of us who care about open government were delighted when the bill passed the Senate unanimously on September 9th.
Then again, senators are the grown-ups in Richmond. The Democrats in the House of Delegates are the bratty children who seem infatuated with bad actors.
As soon as this common-sense measure arrived in the House, it was sent to a committee where it will languish at least until January.
That gives the parole board even more time to conduct its business in the shadows.
This column was republished with permission from Kerry: Unemployed & Unedited.